We are weeks away from Passover and I am starting to feel the pressure. What is it about this holiday that brings out an obsession with cleanliness in a way that is totally and completely out of character? I approach the task with a vengeance, a virtual attack on that lurking piece of hametz that might otherwise be missed. Each year this personal struggle re-surfaces. When does my preparation for Passover morph into my being possessed by Passover? There are those who have said that when people are less knowledgeable regarding the rules governing Pesach, they have a tendency to go overboard. Is that really what it boils down to? Ignorance?
I remember my mother sharing memories of her family’s preparations for Passover in pre-war Poland. Her home was whitewashed each year, linens were boiled and pillows were opened and re-stuffed with additional feathers from ducks and geese that were freshly slaughtered. (The fat was rendered and put away for Passover to eat with matzoh) My own childhood memories of Passover preparations thankfully did not include the killing of ducks and geese but I do remember my mother spending hours on her hands and knees polishing parquet floors with Johnson Paste Wax. She insisted on cleaning our apartment windows and I can remember watching her perched outside the 4th story window with nothing to keep her safe other than the double hung window pulled down tightly across her lap. Only her legs were dangling inside the apartment and, as a child, I held onto them for life.
So here I am in the weeks before Pesach contemplating what the next few weeks will bring and wondering how successful I will be in my pursuit of moderation. This past week I took my first step as I gingerly approached the pantry. I looked inside and pondered the contents. I still have hope that some interesting recipe will inspire me to prepare the freekeh I recently purchased but the matzoh meal from last year had to go. Some things will be used over the next few weeks, leaving less to pack up and sell. Standing in front of the pantry I realized that, for me, all this preparation is a way to impart the importance of Passover and it’s traditions to our children in a non-verbal way, as it has been done by women for generations. What better way to convey the seriousness in which I approach the holiday and all that it stands for. The hard work, attention to detail and the pursuit of that last piece of hametz is my personal way of telling the story of Passover. Ultimately we hope to create memories that our children will recall and pass on to their own children. We hope that the lesson is well learned and joyous and as for moderation, it is probably overrated.
Here is a recipe for a soup that I made using the red lentils I found in the pantry.
Puree of Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red lentils
2 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups cold water
1/2 cup whole milk
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in soup pot till hot and then sauté chopped carrots, onions and garlic until soft or for approximately five minutes. Add lentils and stir well. Add salt and pepper and paprika. Pour 2 cups water over lentils and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook till lentils are very soft, about 30 minutes. When done, let cool slightly and add butter and milk. Then purée contents and serve.
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One of the things I enjoy is seeing how recipes change after arriving on foreign shores, much like the people who carry those family treasures with them. Several weeks ago our friends Susan and Isaac stopped by on a Saturday afternoon. Although our friends were born in Mexico, their parents were immigrants who hailed from Hungary and Poland. Since I too am of Polish ancestry it is always amusing to see how some of the recipes that both Isaac and I grew up eating either were “Mexicanized” by his family or “Americanized” by mine. Over the years I have learned that if Isaac comes over for cholent or jellied calves feet, no matter how well I season the dish, he is going to ask for hot sauce. As I watch him pour this spicy red liquid over my creation I sit and wonder “what my mother would think if she saw him do that.” I have adapted and even come to love some of the Schmidt family creations. Gribenes (fried pieces of chicken fat) in a taco with guacamole or chicken soup that smells like mine but is REALLY spicy.
So, when Isaac and Susan came bearing gifts, leftovers from their Shabbat dinner, we knew we were in for a treat. Susan uncovered the plate which held several chiles, cooked in the style of chile rellenos, something I truly love. Then the surprise. We cut into the chile and instead of cheese, they were filled with kasha, the grain of my youth. Plain, simple, hearty kasha stuffed into a pepper and fried. How delicious.
So here is to old friends, old recipes and new twists.
Chiles stuffed with Kasha
8 fresh green chiles (Poblano or Anaheim (with stems intact, if possible).
Prepare Kasha cooked according to the directions on the box. I add lots of fried onions.
3 tbs flour
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp pepper
1/4 cup oil
Stuff each chile with prepared kasha and set aside. Separate eggs and beat the whites until stiff. Beat yolks and fold into whites, along with flour, salt and pepper. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet. Dip stuffed chiles, one at a time, into egg batter to coat, then remove with a large spoon. Carefully lower coated chiles into hot oil, 3 or 4 at a time. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Place in baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Here’s a link to a cookbook project that my friends are working on:
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One of the wonderful things about this blog is that I am getting e-mails from family and friends who want to share their recipes. Recipes that they are clearly proud of. This recipe for whole wheat bread was sent to me by my sister-in-law Fern, who lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. Recently retired from her professional career as an attorney, Fern is traveling, swimming and baking. My husband, the other baker among the siblings, tried this out last night. I arrived in Los Angeles from my NYC flight (where I served my cholent) after midnight and I came home to this freshly made, chewy and dense bread. It is delicious and perfect for a sandwich. Thanks Fern!! The recipe makes two nice sized loaves.
Fern’s Whole Wheat Bread
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup whole rye flour (can be replaced by whole wheat)
1 cup mixed grains (any combination of wheat germ, wheat bran, rolled oats, oat bran, millet, ground flax, quinoa, bulgur)
2 cups white bread flour
1 tbsp light brown sugar or honey
2 tbsp dry yeast or 50 gm (2 oz) fresh yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil and some for oiling the bowl
3 cups water at room temp.
1/4 cup crushed raw walnuts and/or unsalted sunflower seeds (optional)
In a large bowl, mix together flours and grains. Make a well and add sugar or honey. Add yeast and then 2 cups of the water. Mix well, using a wooden spoon. Add salt and oil and continue mixing. Add more water as necessary until dough forms a sticky mass. Knead on floured surface, adding more bread flour as necessary, until dough becomes pliable and elastic, five to ten minutes. Dough will be slightly dense. Form into a ball, oil and place in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until dough doubles in size, about 11/2 hours. Remove dough from bowl, punch down and cut in two. Use bread flour if necessary on working surface. Roll each piece into a round about the size of a dinner plate, about a quarter of an inch thick. Crushed walnuts and/or sunflower seeds may be sprinkled on the surface of the rounds. Roll up each round, forming a loaf. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for about 45 minutes. Bake at 360 F for 50 minutes until golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on rack. Bread will freeze well either sliced or whole.
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